Selling Deals: Best Practices for Structuring Your Sales Organization for Success

This is the third post in our deals series. In each installment, an AppNexian will break down another way for publishers to succeed with deals. This week, AppNexus Marketplace Development Lead, Jeff Goldstein will give you three sales tips for publishers getting started with deals. Jeff has seen the rise of deals first-hand both in his current role at AppNexus and as an Account Executive with publishers like NBCUniversal and Yahoo.

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Jeff Goldstein

We’ve all heard by now that programmatic is the way of the future – eMarketer estimates that by 2020, programmatic ads will represent 86.2% of the overall U.S. display market. But, the vast majority of that spend will go to deals, either in the form of pre-negotiated programmatic direct transactions or private marketplaces (PMPs).

In other words, the programmatic revolution doesn’t mean you’ll be able to just throw your inventory onto the open exchange and watch the dollars roll in. You’re still going to have to build relationships, pitch advertisers, and learn how to sell your inventory through this new channel to take full advantage of the programmatic opportunity.

In this post I want to get into some of the tough, tactical questions publishers face in selling deals – how to structure your pitch, find prospects for your deals, and structure and comp your sales organization to maximize your opportunities. 


1. Craft your pitch

The first question you need to ask is, “Why should an advertiser buy my deals – especially if they already buy my inventory direct or via the open exchange?” In our last post on how to price deals, Alex Collier mentioned some of the typical value props publishers lead with – data, exclusive inventory, transparency, priority, etc.  The point is, you need a point of view on the value your deals provide and where they fit in your overall packaging strategy.

Remember, setting up a deal usually requires increased operational overhead and troubleshooting – both for buyers and for you, the publisher. Your deal offering needs to add enough incremental value over the inventory you put on the open exchange to justify that extra cost.

So, when crafting your deals pitch, I recommend you start by talking to your direct sales team about how they’re currently pitching your inventory. Remember, programmatic doesn’t change the value or makeup of your audience – you need to be sure you understand exactly why advertisers are buying that audience directly before you start offering deals. What does you audience look like? Why do they go to your site? What products do they want? These are all questions you need to answer before you sell deals.

Once you know that, you then need to figure out what kinds of deal terms – enhanced audience data, premium inventory, better auction mechanics – best augment the core value add of your audience. More tactically, you should then work with your sales team to develop talking points and supporting materials like one-pagers and media kits that make the value of your deals crystal clear.


2. Start prospecting

The second question you need to answer is, “Who am I going to sell my deals to?” If you have a direct sales business, those buyers are an obvious place to start – yes you’ll have to manage sales channel conflict concerns, and determine how to comp your sales team (more on that below) but you already have the relationships in place.  However, don’t assume that’s where the majority of the business will come – many publishers are surprised at just how much opportunity there is with agency trading desks and marketers who are essentially all programmatic.  If you aren’t planning to build new relationships with new buyers to grow your deals business you’ll leave a lot of money on the table.

To do that, start by looking at your biggest buyers on the open exchange. These are advertisers who have organically discovered that your inventory aligns with their goals, without you or your sales team pushing them to do so. It stands to reason that they might be interested in an enhanced version of what they’re already buying. Even if these buyers don’t end up taking your deals, your conversations with them can help you discover new ways your inventory adds value for buyers, which can serve as inspiration for new deal terms to try out.

Finally, see what your SSP and exchange partners can do for you. Some of them may be able to help match you with potential deal partners. At AppNexus for example, we offer publishers a service called AppNexus Packages, which allows you to build a catalog of different deals packages and quickly get in contact with AppNexus buyers who show interest. Outside of self service technology options


3. Prepare your sales team

Once you’ve come up with a few deals packages and identified potential buyers, you need to prepare your sales team to start pitching this new offering. The first thing you’ll need is a programmatic expert in-house. You can either go out and hire one, or train one of your current salespeople – this person should be attending conferences, reading blog posts, attending webinars – anything to become fluent in the language of deals. I’m of course partial to the AppNexus blog, but there are other great resources out there like the IAB, eMarketer, and independent blogs like Ad Ops Insider.

There’s also the question of how to structure your sales team for deals. Having worked at and with publishers on their deals business across my career, I strongly recommend publishers not build out a competing deals-only sales team in addition to their direct team. You’ll face more complexity in building a new skillset in your team vs. hiring domain experts, but the savings on office politics is worth it. You need both your direct inventory and your deals to sell for your business to succeed, and that’s more likely to happen if you have a unified team tackling both together rather than two competing teams. That said, I highly recommend bringing in a programmatic expert to facilitate training, coaching, and leading some of the the more technical conversations with clients. At AppNexus we often pair deal experts with our standard account managers to get the best of both worlds. 

Another way to keep your salespeople unified and focused solely on driving revenue is to compensate them equally for direct and deals sales. Salespeople will favor whichever product they’re incentivized to, so if you want deals to take off, you need to make them equally rewarding to your team. This is also reinforces the notion that deals aren’t going to cannibalize their direct business, which is a concern many salespeople have when a new product is introduced.


Deals set you up for programmatic success

Deals are set to continue growing as an inventory segment, and the data indicates that they’ll comprise more than half of all programmatic activity in the coming years. But the only way to tap in is to build a bullet-proof deals sales strategy. Start planning now and set yourself up for long-term programmatic success – assess your inventory, figure out new ways to augment your open exchange inventory, and educate your sales team to get your deals business up and running as soon as possible.